How to Build a Terrarium to Help Kids Learn About Our Ecosystem

How to Build a Terrarium for Kids
Creating terrariums for kids are an interesting way to teach them about the functioning of an ecosystem. Given below are instructions on how to make one.
Gardenerdy Staff
Last Updated: Jul 28, 2017
In Latin, the word terra means 'earth', and the word terrarium is formed on the pattern of an aquarium. It is also known as a vivarium, and is a closed transparent container (usually globe-shaped) in which plants are grown, and/or some small land animals, usually reptiles or amphibians are kept and observed. The tradition of growing plants in glass containers is believed to have existed 2,500 years ago in Greece. These containers are usually used to grow delicate plants, but may also be used for their decorative value. It is common for schools to give vivarium projects to kids as it helps them understand how an ecosystem functions, and the interdependence between all that is part of it. A terrarium is easy to put together, and with a little knowledge, you can guide your child through the process. Alternately, you can use one of the several different kits that are available. If you plan to have a go at it the old-fashioned way, here are instructions on how to build one.

Terrarium Materials

Type
Start the process by deciding whether you plan to make an open or closed terrarium. The open types include a dish that can be made in a bowl, or in any other container that is partially enclosed. Dish gardens are the easiest to make, and are just an arrangement of a few different types of plants in an open container. They will require more watering than the closed type, but the danger of disease buildup is reduced. The closed terrarium is completely enclosed in a jar, glass, or container, and provides the highest amount of humidity, followed by the open terrarium and then the dish garden. Select the kind based on whether you want a woodland, tropical, or desert theme.

Container
A terrarium container must be made from clear glass or plastic which allows maximum light transmission. You can either buy a container specially designed for the purpose, or source one from your home. Your options include empty fish bowls, fish tanks, brandy snifters, old glass jars, jugs, bottles. Any glass container that has a large mouth would be good, and a good option is a large glass cookie jar. If you plan to use a closed container, it should have a transparent cover. Containers used for dish gardens need not be transparent.

Soil
The soil used in a vivarium must be clean, well drained, and high in organic matter. Good options are potting soil and prepackaged peat-like mixes sold at garden centers and nurseries. You can also make your own sterilized soil by combining one part peat moss with one part moist rich garden soil, and baking it in an oven for 30 minutes at 200 degrees. Cover the container with aluminum foil before baking, and vary baking time according to quantity. Cool and moisten before use.

Plants
While your options are many, the best plants for a vivarium are those that have a low and dense growth habit. Use plants that require the same conditions; you can use large plants but frequent pruning is required. You could use moss, lichen, begonias, spider plants, small palms or miniature orchids, miniature ferns, wintergreens and African violets.

Building a Terrarium
  • If you use a container from your home, wash it with hot, soapy water, then rinse and dry it completely.
  • Start by lining the base with a one-inch layer of stones. Over that, add half an inch of charcoal.
  • Add a 2" or 3'' of potting soil at a slant (one side elevated). Make little wells for the roots.
  • Carefully remove the plants from the soil they are sitting in, brush off the extra soil, and trim away any damaged leaves.
  • Immediately place the plants in the holes you have made for them and lightly pat the soil down. Moisten the soil, but do not over-water.
  • You can add rocks and animal figurines for ornamental value. Place your vivarium in the vicinity of a bright window, but not in direct sunlight. Water and prune as required.
Building a terrarium with your kids will help them better understand the working of an ecosystem, inculcating greater respect for nature and the environment.
Mini succulent garden in glass terrarium
Lichen
Mound of potting soil isolated on white background
Empty fishbowl on white